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are never quick when it comes to stephen king but any way that's what i reading this summer and i hope to finish them all before the convention. next on book tv, jennifer ratner-rosenhagen talks about the impact of german philosopher fredric nietzsche. this is about an hour and 15 minutes. >> i'm so pleased to welcome my friend jennifer ratner-rosenhagen to the newberry this evening. jennifer is the associate professor of history at the university of wisconsin madison. sheeran her ph.d. in history at brandeis university and her b.a. from the university of rochester. prior to landing, jennifer taught at the university of miami in the history department where we were colleagues not so many years ago. jennifer's book, "american
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nietzsche: a history of an icon and his ideas" stock quote was published by university chicago press and jenifer examines how the philosophy found a home in america. nietzsche's writing about the death of god and challenge to universal truth have inspired american thinkers, journalists, academics, philosophers, theologians, poets and others have drawn on nietzsche we learned in "american nietzsche." "american nietzsche" has been reviewed widely and positively. "the new york times" book editor wrote today's in its cable and perplexing nietzsche is not necessarily the same nietzsche who inspired the readers in the past and it's the chief of jennifer ratner-rosenhagen's "american nietzsche" to show the case. the preacher never ability to tell her readers think more deeply and for historical about nietzsche and intellectuals than we might have in the past. it's one of the great successes of her book. in a compelling prologue to "american nietzsche" she becomes
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the fervent reading of ralph waldo emerson beginning in the 1860's. she writes it was emmerson who first constructed nietzsche about life. the policy was drawn to emmerson, jennifer explained, because he understood what it meant to travel imaginatively through time and space in order to find a thinker to think with. i know a few individuals who travel through time and space as imaginatively or who have compelling thinkers to the question of fer herself so we are all in for a treat this evening thinking with her. please strine me in welcoming jennifer ratner-rosenhagen to the newberry. [applause] >> thanks for that lovely introduction and to newberry library and the bookstore for hosting tonight's event and all
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of you of course for coming out tonight. so, it's very fitting that i find myself in chicago talking about nietzsche because it was in chicago in the early 90s during my years between undergraduate and graduate school that i began to read his philosophy. i wanted to do graduate work in intellectual history but many people interests ideas i was never the less drawn to the european thinkers, karl marx, sigmund freud and nietzsche most especially nietzsche. as i moved on to graduate school i continued to find his thoughts intoxicating and felt she pessin out my attraction. after all i've gone to graduate school to study american intellectual and cultural history and i felt compelled to turn back to my american thinkers ralf waldo emerson,
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john tooby, michael blumberg. i thought it was time for me to find myself back on american intellectual land but to put to the fight i found how difficult was going to be in the contemporary american intellectual life especially the american academy and higher education nietzsche philosophy featured monograph, natural and university courses in all fields of the humanities and social sciences. there wasn't a university library for the major bookstore that didn't have a section but even as i widened out from the wall of the academy of was soiled in my effort to move away from writing and moved back to my america. and they made it in mistakable this 19th century german philosopher was a towering public intellectual in contemporary american life.
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he was everywhere. images of his moustache were on our coffee cups and t-shirts and his lover is run our bumper stickers and tote bags and his phrases and concept, sleeve and mr. morality studying our morning papers and advertisements nietzsche could be found in contemporary novels from tom wolfe to scott turnrow and as well as television shows and movies including the simpsons, the barbarian, blazing saddles, the fish called wombat and i couldn't resist putting a few recent shows and that includes the sopranos, the day after tomorrow, the internal sunshine of his bachus mind and littleness sunshine. nietzsche even made it off broadway and the 2000 bad blight nietzsche. along the way i would come to discover nietzsche inspired food including nietzsche pops.
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there is a nietzsche power bar which is the official supplement of the superman and for those of you that our week will to power like me and others to receive chennai nietzsche dahlia as advertised in the onion in the mid 2000. it lets you eat whatever you fear the most. we even have a 11-inch nietzsche ball to struggle with that might. so there's a harmless figure of the material culture but also the teenage nietzsche as well. in the early years of the project, 16-year-old of mississippi exemplified figure of the pingree disaffected young man who had a nietzsche text in the one hand and a gun and knife and the other and this became quite conventional as we move throughout the 1990's and into 2000 with a 1995 column by
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massacre, the 2001 double homicide the husband and wife at college, professors and their homes and more recently, the shootings of congress when gabrielle and bystanders at a medium agree to the parking lot. trying to move back to the grounds, move away from nietzsche, going to politics was a bad idea. i discovered very quickly that nietzsche is there, too. in his address to the joint session of congress on september 20th, 2001, the first major address that president george bush gave after the 9/11 attack, he condemned the 9/11 terrorists for their mission of will to power. but i came to see that nietzsche was not simply a figure of the right, but he was also a figure of the left or the center left depending on your angle of the vision. was many years later that i
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would learn in an october 2008 interview that then candidate for dhaka, who was asked by "the new york times" about his literary influences what mean frederick nietzsche as one of them. he had come into contact with nietzsche while an undergraduate at occidental college. i can turn to popular music and again nietzsche was there as an inspiration from performer to a diverse as coffin crossing marilyn manson and the full icon joni mitchell. she even named nietzsche and dedicated her 1998 song to him. mitchell explained what nietzsche that is the philosopher, not the feeling that to her. quote, nietzsche was a hero. he gets a bad rap. he's very misunderstood. he's a maker of individuals and he was a teacher of teachers come end of quote. and just in case you think this is a curious luke on your right
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home to might turn on the radio to a top 40 station and you will likely hear kelly clark said hit song stronger which the lyrics are nietzsche's maximo it doesn't tell me makes me stronger and i won't sing it for you. but if you prefer rather than you can listen to con a west 2007 hit version also stronger using nietzsche's maximum. let's back up a bit from the project he had a dominating presence in 20th century american cultural life and get it was pretty easy for me of the time to assume that the fascination must have been of a relatively recent vintage. what attracted i thought we could look at the locations of american striving to come to terms with the horrors of the holocaust and the atomic bomb and the post-world war. i thought maybe it is even more recent than that. maybe i can trace it to the
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temper of the 60's when americans come of age and struggle with the bank of ideologies of the cold war world and go against the lingering a bruzual convention of their parents. yet in my effort to reclaim my mind for more american thinkers, i was flailed once again as i thought let me move back in time and surely this will go away. again i didn't take long were much effort before i started to take note of the curious nietzsche traces of american fought from earlier periods. indeed in the text i was reading while trying to get back to my american native ground, william's variety of religious experience there richard hofstadter power of american politics, martin luther king jr.'s autobiography and david's lonely crowd to make all of them had engagements with nietzsche in them coming and nietzsche under every bed? not quite.
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although there are a lot of nietzsche under beds, but it also is to move back in time i was able to start to connect the dots and see how much nietzsche was cropping up. i was able to connect the dots to the turn of the last century when the interest in nietzsche was so intense that observers could without hyperbole talk about the nietzsche vote. this was the term used in the beginning of the 20th century and as a commentator put it, and he was right, quote come he will know the zeitgeist will no nietzsche. yet every new discovery i could not help but ask the same question that the nietzsche commentators i was reading were asking themselves. and that is why? what is the work of an antichristian, anti-democratic, antienlightenment thinkers doing in a culture like ours? and asking these questions by product was born.
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why nietzsche and why in america? in the time that remains, what i would like to do is offer some answers to these questions about nietzsche's philosophy has been doing and has done for 20th century thought and culture in the united states. my book examines nietzsche's longstanding impact on the 20th century american thought and culture. it examines how nietzsche's universal truth together with the sustained critiques of christian morality, enlightenment rationality and democracy have compelled generations of americans to question their religious ideals, their moral certainties and their space principles. i trace the episodes in the history including coming and i'm just going to name a few, purely 20th century christian commentators use of nietzsche's philosophies as a registered of the soul of modern man under secularism. i look at early 20th century literary political figures to turn to nietzsche's maddock intellectual life as an example of the perils and promises of
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the freelance intellectual life that they hope to inhabit themselves. i look at a debate about the nietzsche root of imperialism and the first world war and totalitarianism during the second world war. i can think of no other philosopher who has been blamed for the two world wars but in fact that nietzsche is blamed for both world war i and world war ii. and i look more recently at the american academy and popular culture when he was transformed into the father or if you will the grandfather of postmodernism many of the names of the commentators that i discuss in the book will be familiar to you. like a john melancon, emma goldman, walter wittman, khalil, william jennings bryan, thomas, lionel trimmings, huey newton, cornell west and harold bloom. while some were enlivened, by his writings and others were
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mortified by his writings, none were in different to the implication of his philosophy to the promise of american life. yet today i want to look at a different kind of reader. i want to look at a different kind of source, and mainly i'm going to look at the fan letters that were written by nietzsche's american readers and sent to the nietzsche archive in germany. i do so not only because they give us access to the intellectual bottle of, quote on "average americans often lost or at least overlooked by intellectual historians, but because the signal how and why nietzsche's philosophy of the image of the suffering martyred mad genius became so instrumental in american intellectual life. we see how americans pressed nietzsche into service using him to criticize the shortcomings of american democracy, the moral semidey of their priest, and the hollow promises of enchantment by the secular pop culture.
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the value of these letters, as historical documents, as historical sources. it seems to me it is not their philosophical value. that is to say how good they are as jesus on nietzsche. it is also for marriage and shortcomings. but what i think is important is to listen for their historical values and i think that has nothing to do with what do they get nietzsche right or wrong. those kind of judgments matter with your judgments for another day and i think another book. but not for the historian who is interested in using these letters to listen as it were to people from the past, to listen to people's moral reasoning come to listen to people's longing into their path obligee's and fear -- pathology and year. that is played with these letters, listen and have people
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make sense of their moral world and not to add to the kid who is getting them right and wrong. and the duties i think of doing that is that we begin to understand how and why nietzsche goes from being an obscure figure in the 19th century germany to a pop icon in american intellectual life. if book sales are a measure of literary achievements, nietzsche in 1981 was a positive failure. his first book the works of tragedy caused quite a stir among a small circle of veterinarians and zoologists the field to catch the attention of the literary press and reading public and get the best-selling book during his lifetime after that it was pretty much downhill. the next year his essays stated a professor and writer of 1873, the first of nietzsche's untimely medication received some initial attention to them also quickly faded from view.
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the work that followed, human all too human of 1878, the break of 1881 went virtually unnoticed. and nietzsche never tired of completing the travails of the untimely genius. in a letter to a friend in august of 1881 he was told about an indifferent public that let him start on silence as he wrote, "if i were unable to draw strength from myself, if i had to wait for encouragement and consolation, where would i be? what would i be? there were moments in the periods in my life when a word of encouragement, a hand of the agreement would have been a refreshment. and it was just then everybody left end of the quote. but a few months later as the protracted neglect exacerbated nietzsche's exaggeration out of the blue three admirers from baltimore maryland sent him and at the very lifeline. really not very easy to see. but it's a very old letter.
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it's from 1881. these don't reproduce well but this is a letter of 1881, and let me read you when you can't read for yourself in translation. perhaps it is a little concerned to you that here in america three people often sit together and allows the 65 ridings to edify then after the incident. but i don't see why we shouldn't at least tell you we are counting on the fact that the due to the death of your sublime addiction we will never be able or one to read anything else again. we may not merely imagine how pleased nietzsche was to get this letter for the preserved on the backside of the letter written on the backside of the letter that is now preserved in the archives it is his hand written note itself procrit. the brief and nietzsche the first american letter of introduction to world war.
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he would be little a better translation would be the beginning of world things. so first american letter the beginning of world seems. finally, it seemed the world was awaking to its genius. during the next few months, however, silence settled back. nevertheless, nietzsche had productivity in which he worked on his next book the science. it was also during this period he was reading one of his favorite philosophers, ralph waldo emerson and thanks to his reena inspiration, emmerson quotation for the book has a grasp. how fitting then that weigel readiness philosophical love letter to the hero in the second letter showed a rise from the states in the from the very native grounds of the stage of concord. and the letter from boston dated may 29 come etd to a professional violinist by the name of gustav road to nietzsche to express as he put it, quote, my humble thanks for the benefit
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life derived and the wish that lifelong entertained to possess a likeness ever so small of the man i learned to the door for the greatness of his mind and the sincerity of his utterances. bear in mind the was a transition from a sentence in much longer sentences than we have so this is actually quite an elegant sentence. so, he uses this letter also is an occasion to tell nietzsche that he had such admiration for the essay that he'd written on his untimely medication that he had as he put it translated no less than three times not so much with the future publishing my reproduction as to that it's becoming more instant with your work but in spite of my efforts it fell so far short of an adequate rendition of the original that i was only glad for the sake of your reputation to keep the manuscript in my desk. since then i've quite destroyed it for the memory of exalted moments remaining in five short
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my work wasn't wasted upon myself. we have no record of his response but one suspects he might have figured there was the cultural from germany one or unwilling to recognize his genius perhaps the america that had produced his beloved emmerson will also have created a people with his on a timely message. letters from america were not much but the response to his writings back at home this seemed like inauspicious beginning perhaps the dawn of the world-famous braking. except unfortunately it wasn't. these were the only two of the three finletter's written vertically to nietzsche prior to his mental collapse in 1889. during the 1890's a handful of letters from american nietzsche
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enthusiasts trickled with the invalid philosopher state in the care of his mother and the sister elizabeth nietzsche and leader where he spent the last three years of his life in a room at top of the nietzsche archives which is now administered by elizabeth who's the self-appointed literary executor and she administered until her death in 1935. by the time the fan letters arrived, however, nietzsche was totally unaware of them. his days of intellectual were over but she was unable to recollect he was ever a after reader and writer. on their own the letters from the american fans cannot tell us much. but when we read them together with the letters that started arriving at the nietzsche archive in the immediate years following the death in 1900 we can see that they are a case of them to come.
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the confessions of the esteem and adoration or repeated innumerable times in the letters written by the admirers young and old, male and female, left and right, immigrant and native born to express their devotion to the figure that changed the way they thought about themselves and their world. the road for a picture and an autograph and sometimes simply to say thank you and sometimes to offer their assistance in spreading the gospel in america. the letters might appropriately be classified as american nietzsche but the also really are just a snapshot in time and some of them are no longer than , sometimes too. in those cases beyond having their names listed senseless records and crop up in the obituaries there is little to nothing left in the public record giving evidence of the fullness of the letter writers' lives or the extent to which the
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incorporate his ideas into their deeply conduct. nevertheless, and all of their imperfect brevity the letters offer insight into how the idea is not only travel in the world but also how they help make americans more a new and they show how and why the kind of culture that he took as his enemy would come to welcome him as one of the most vital thinkers. the fan letters suggest to me as an intellectual historian that sometimes in order to behold a large picture format of american intellectual life, we have to start small. given the increased presence in american intellectual cultural life, commentators, many commentators echo the sentiment of one observer put that he was, "in the air. they wrote about him as if he were a transcendent spirit. however the letters also remind us that nietzsche's thought was
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no mere vapor. they demonstrate the material and mention of ideas because for many the experience contact with the philosophy has so transformative that they recorded in the letters the form in which the first encountered him either as a photograph in a magazine, and the man in the newspaper review or an author for sale at the local bookshop. the letters testified to the ways in which the embodied forms of ideas that matter to people take on a psychic value much greater than their monetary one. letter writers have commonly referred to their nietzsche copies -- pardon me, the copies of the book as, quote on quote, prized possessions. they shared with elizabeth nietzsche which books the own, which they borrowed from a friend or relative to and which ones they hope to procure. miniet nietzsche's american admirers wrote in hope of gaining some precious relic from a piece of the man who for them
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was the example. one of the most common was for nietzsche's signature. a big bubble the 12-year-old john jr of stratford pennsylvania wrote in 1926, quote, my mother loves her brother's writings and i am going to read them when i grew up but i rode all about frederick nietzsche and a book that has just been published by the name of the philosophy of wilder and, and i loved it. we can imagine she wanted to send the autocrat -- excuse me wanted to share nietzsche's autograph with his mom or express to the to impress his friends with it but a simple unadorned emission that he would, quote, just love to have it. if you have 1i could have i would be so happy. this is one of many letters requesting autographs.
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the request for the paraphernalia, that is the pictures, his hair, a little piece of some writing that got broken off, these requests for the paraphernalia shed light on the broad context of the longing and a desire that he'll weekend and the letter from 1923 of mount vernon and new york wrote for information where he could find, quote, a good picture of your great brother. he explained the request in a lengthy narrative demonstrating his devotion. two years earlier, "as a student of the sciences i drew a small circle of healthy disciples around me. we hold in the library lectures on the small scale and the philosophy of your unique and internal brother. in order to fully realize the experience coming he and his fellow disciples moved through innumerable art galleries on the
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quest to find a perfect picture so that we could decorate the reading room with such a holy relic to no avail. he sought to reassure her that the request wouldn't make lightly. he added that on behalf of his friends he also wanted to express gratitude for her devotion to their suffering and he wrote, quote, please allow me honorable madam to mention week the rate your honorable person as holiness and we are aware without you, your entire health, the right of your brother would have been a much more suffering one. and so as a token of his gratitude, hawthorne who did what is not uncommon for the raiders to which is not simply to ask for something but to send something so he sent a poem that she had in his inspiration of nietzsche. pcbs and the other letters
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people put photographs of their houses, they said their christmas cards. as the microphone on? keep going? can you hear me all right. so, if american nietzsche d.o.t. is wanted a relic of him, it is because he possessed them. they didn't simply ask for valuable goods to adorn their lives, they explained how the philosopher that the adored taught them something precious about the good life. virtually all of the letter writer's contest having an encounter with his philosophy either in golden them were chastened them, liberated them from old falsehoods or saddle them with new responsibilities. of the know-how yoshiro in 22 to let nietzsche know that her brother had inspired the belief that human greatness was
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possible in the modern world. one worthy of his greatness he nevertheless a weekend in her a longing for something deeper in herself. nietzsche confessed from, quote, her own emptiness. the ohio country, she called home had become a commonplace filled with trivial and essentially ugly for the hour embrace with matters of money and murder not with work or space or art of older and pretentious. they are disgusted by the mediocrity around her. she was also chagrined by her own limitations, "it would be impossible for you to imagine anything more superficial and i am reading what we can presume what was the translation of the nietzsche correspondence and had a relationship before he didn't
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before it ended explosively and he documented their letter exchanges and this was translated out this year so i'm assuming this is the book she is referring to. reading this exposed her to depths beyond depths of one great soul striking fire against another free reading about the strength and resolve all my life if i never managed to have a soul at any rate i will remain by crook aware of it and i will desire one all my life. i will not accept substitute. we see an example of how the reader joost nietzsche's philosophy to explain herself to herself to be the nietzsche had given her justification for in the language to articulate her feelings of this placement in the world that seems content with ugly compromises. nietzsche's philosophy detraction of the readers yearning for individual of the piece as well as belonging and
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the desire for self understanding they fashioned their own version of nietzsche as a division of the and a new self and that image. i'm pretty sure i'm going to have a hard time reading the letterhead but it's from george e. micha. the he didn't express the surroundings, his letter similarly shows this longing for the exultation and connection. it was quite literally nietzsche to whom he felt betrayed himself. quote, my name as you will see from the letterhead is one of nietzsche in america probably the only one. unfortunately, my grandparents and a legal document left the e. out in the was perpetuated. i'm proud of the name and my ancestors came from the same as
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your illustrious brother. so in an effort to sketch out the possible terms of their mutual family tree, nietzsche went on to tell the woman he hoped was is not too distant cousin of the bohemian root of their people and how his branch of the nietzsche family immigrated to pennsylvania in 1739. the centuries and the oceans separated him from he hoped to possess a specimen of nietzsche's handwriting and his autograph and a copy of your own biography of your illustrious brother with an autographed inscription in your handwriting. just a few mementos of the thinker that he hoped was in his blood. this desire to possess a piece of nietzsche revealed a strong affinity for nietzsche's life and thoughts and it shows that it takes many forms in these letters. john of duluth minnesota, for
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example, we believed that he was nietzsche's philosophy realized poi the december 9, 1919 he spent the fifth three announcing his good tidings. he wrote, quote, dear madam, i think to inform you that i am here, one, who was easily enough and then he referred her to the passage of one who was easily enough. he says written chapter on the new tables by frederick nietzsche your beloved deceased brother just in case you haven't read it herself. you have the consolation and a delight to have lived long enough to know that the visions and process and help with your brother have been fulfilled to the very letter. the author of the skilling is a very man prognosticated in the volumes very respectfully, john bush and then he has a bunch of freezes from their estranged figure in the north, the man who had discussed one was easily enough. when a week went by without hearing jubilation back from the
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archive, bush followed with a telegram and this was a little off, assuming that it's transcribed by a non-english speaker on the receiving end of germany and the telegram reads, are your living yet one who is evil enough? john boesh. so inconceivable was it that nietzsche might be ignoring his extraordinary revelation bush seemed to think the only reason for her silence to be he was dead. why else would and she respond to the american cities and the degree to contact in january 261920 which he could barely contain his desperation and reads, dear gentleman by the undersigned big humble to inquired as the elizabeth nietzsche, the sister of the late frederick nietzsche live? i would greatly appreciate if someone connected with the nietzsche archive would quickly answered the above inquiry just one word will suffice. please comply with a small
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request and oblige. enclosed find a self-addressed envelope for the reply as it is inconvenience to remit postage i neglected that part of my obligation and hope that you will incur in that expense and he signs again sinking in advance and i remain very respectfully john of bush. it was c than those others. the way in which he put the philosophy to work for self fashioning was a common strategy that we see in all of these letters. the use nietzsche's terms and aspect to describe them as themselves. one of the reasons why so many people fashioned themselves of the language or after his mission was because as dr. marks of rochester minnesota expressed, nietzsche was more of a great spirit and human being. so what we see a lot of these letters is a strong unmistakable
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with imagery that demonstrates the stultz spiritual dimension of the american nietzsche devotion. after the death of god, the writers still long to images of grandeur to divinity, but this time in the form of human possibilities. nietzsche was that image of human possibility for them. and so what we see in some of the letters, and again it's not just in the letters as i talked about in the book i see this across-the-board even in the highest of highbrows serious intellectual philosophical work on nietzsche is this transformation of nietzsche into a kind of secular state your. certainly the language of a shock through with religious or spiritual work. we see this as people talk about the archives. they talk about it in terms of a pilgrimage making the pilgrimage to the major archives for the holiest of the holy places and that is a quote.
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american readers fascination with nietzsche took many forms of the common way of expressing the diversion was to travel to the archives to meet his sister and see his personal library to read some of the writers refer to actual visits to the archives while others refer to the troops in the stages and travel plans aboard a day and the late. expeditions' both realize and not provide a full view of the mode of the american nietzsche exchange. they remind us that when ideas move readers they do so with in mind and body. the american readers went to a bookstore. they went to the library, they went to the shrine of their friends' house, a nietzsche's shrine and some, not a lot but some based on these records made a transatlantic voyage to germany to myanmar. the discussions the trouble to the archives of just the is an aspect to the story of the crossing sat nietzsche not only
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did the text trouble to america with his ideas but likewise travel to germany for them. what's significant here is there too long to see the archives for themselves and they cast this in a language of religious devotion we see those quite beautifully in the 1920 letter referring to a trip that he took not only to the archives also to reckon which is nietzsche's birth place where he went to see the birth house. the room at your brother was born and you're father studied the old kitchen the trip proves transformative he informed nietzsche in a letter that inspired his book project the pilgrimage is a tribute to nietzsche. the transatlantic troubles of the tax american devotees documented in the letters demonstrate that the transnational traffic of ideas close in both directions. it shows how nietzsche's ideas
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traverse national borders to distinguish americans from german or european intellectual life. i think in doing so it encourages us to rethink the integrity of our national narrative's regarding thoughts and culture. in other words the national narrative that i was struggling with initially as i thought if i went to study american intellectual history you've got to stick with americans thinking they are is a distinct tradition here that is cut off from the circulation of ideas in the world. the letters alone possessed because a german thinker prove inspirational to many american readers that the periodic zeal in american life to celebrate american exceptional was on the sometimes admirable often sets up a false intellectual distinction between american world views and the wide use in the world. the letters,he small fragmentary help us to consider the ways in which morrill weld looks and social concerns in
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america have been forged through cross-cultural world system of exchange modification transformations. in doing so these letters help us think some of the categories we work with like america unexceptional was some work for in her thoughts or we talk about organic ideas or pupu the radical imports. but before we zealously embraced the artificiality of the contract like american were germans for an inorganic we shouldn't forget the power such differences had been cheating of the experience of people we study in the past and of course we see it today. many readers ideas about what us and them were sharpened, not moved out in the fraction of this movement. the latter still a bigger story about caltrans national traffic
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of nietzsche's images and ideas helped and rebuild traverse and reconstitute intellectual borders between america and europe. so we might be tempted to view the vibrancy of nietzsche's posthumous american career as a sign of long standing salutary national -- transnational intellectual exchanges, many of american leaders here felt just the opposite. they turned to nietzsche but because they thought he could make something possible for the pedestrian american intellect, but precisely because in their view she couldn't. the prospect in nietzsche's philosophy could shrink the difference between german and american culture was the last thing on many of the american writers . though they were reading nietzsche in america than ever fought or desired that the philosophy to find refuge. they simply wanted more of nietzsche. more of the german distance, more of his philosophy to the
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intellectual mentality of american life. so here we are seeing a very common concern that we can see that the much higher register of american intellectual discourse among the professional intellectuals that america is antiintellectual. and there's plenty -- we have plenty of documentation. but what is interesting is the letters show this was a concern and the lower registers of american culture as well. what we can hear in the letters also is a concern about american antiintellectualism. but what we hear is a worry that america doesn't do culture. we can make or build mcdonald's and we don't even do that anymore but we don't do ideas. we don't produce ideas. upc in the letters the american intellectualism burrowed deeply into the imagination of the readers, this notion that he was a genius and we could have never
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produced nietzsche. there are cultures to produce this kind of genius. and so these letters document the longing for intellectual engagement, the reverence for ideas even if that is the capitol was a more mass culture it wasn't exclusive average americans have of the world nietzsche created and embodied so this is a sampling of the letters to talk about in the book they signal some of the ways american readers enlisted the idea is to contemplate themselves and critique their america and i would like to end now with one that does a nice job of pulling together above the leitmotif of the american nietzsche devotion. ..
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>> and a timely critic of a world out of kilter. createn began by, quote, the life of your brother was a life of a christ pure and great. no man suffered what he did on account of his convictions, not even jesus christ, end quote. he believed that nietzsche and the german people from which he came were, like him, the true descendants of the he elevennic spirits.
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when america entered the, quote, unjust war on germany, end quote, in 1917, he opted for incarceration rather than to bear arms against these, quote, true greeks, end quote. he was disgusted with american literature which produced only junk writers, none worthy of her brother, and then in his letter he moved from his cree teak of a botched -- critique of a botched american culture. quote, i only hope that america might someday produce writers worthy of nietzsche, then america will be in a place to show her savior as italy and germany, end quote. that these lines were written in 1933 can only suggest that hitler's rise to power confirmed his view of the unfortunate incongruity between german greatness and american poverty. he concluded by thanking her brother for having graced world history with his timely philosophy of life. so chrisen's letter is packed
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with many of the major them as running through virtually all of the american fan letters sent to the archive. general readers, young and old, peal and female made and remade nietzsche in their own image. scholars and writers all leapt a hand, whether as -- lent a hand whether as the cultural critic to work on themselves and america, and in doing so they naturalized nietzsche as an american or one of us. for crittin in particular, it helped him fill in the contours of his own american-greek identity, helped him articulate why he felt such a distance from american culture and helped him hammer out political ideas. his ideas moved through time and space, and every time nietzsche's inside did so, they were -- ideas did so, they were constituted in the hands of an american reader.
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he wrote to procure additional works, a photograph, a swatch of his handwriting, nietzsche's american readers saw tangible records of the authors whose ideas had demonstrated practical power if their lives. the only reason why they wanted to possess it, however, was because nietzsche had possessed them. critten's letter, like the letters written before him, offer a preview with the variety of american engagements with nietzsche for decades to come. the letter puts in ink on paper what many in the decades to come without put in their blood and on their bodies. he wrote a concessional letter. for the 21-year-old jack kerr back, 11 years later he wrote a quotation in his blood. he did so in 1944 in an early period of artistic searching and
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self-chase. he had borrowed alan ginsburg's library card to check out volumes of nietzsche, and in his text he sent a vision of the transformative power of art that he was trying to achievement and in his own work as -- kerr back cut his finger and with his blood wrote the following words from the birth of tragedy. quote: art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life, end quote. over a half century later, that desire to bring nietzsche onto and into be one's self can be seen on the bodies of 20-somethingers and upwards. like the actress megan fox who has on her ribs a quotation and like derek gottlieb, the indexer of my book, who incidentally is also an advanced graduate student in educational theory in comparative literature who, at our first meeting to go over the
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manuscript and talk about the index, showed me why it was kiss met that he should be the indexer of his book by pulling up his shirt and showing me his tattoo that reeds -- speak speak speak -- [speaking in native tongue] , and that is there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness. how fitting this is pulled from a reading where, quote: of all that is written, i love only what a person has rib in blood -- written in blood. and those in turn who wanted to learn nietzsche by heart, they did so by bringing them in their blood. example like derek's rib cage simply make literal what has been figural in american history, 20th century american history, and that is that
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nietzsche has been inscribed on the american body, that nietzsche is in our blood. , that nietzsche is, as alan bloom put it -- though he did so mournfully -- that nietzsche is us. are the risks involved in making the two-page epistle or derek's tattoo carrying more interpretive weight that they can bear? can a typo-ridden cranky letter or a tattoo tell us anything of broader significance for understanding nietzsche's importance for 20th century thought and culture? they do because they speak to the ways in which an astonishing arrange of readers participated in the much wider circuit of intellectual exchange than we normally appreciate. in addition, average in average american no longer makes sense to his readers as a term of self-description. even for those who came to nietzsche with a sense of inadequacy, he provided them a language critique the church,
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the marketplace or their civics lesson that helped them to sharpen their sense of distinction in themselves, enabling them to feel their own particularity. a broader sentiment that is also echo inside the published sources, namely that nietzsche was a prophet who worked not by issuing instructions for conduct, but by serving as a guide to becoming. if be they were unable to anchor their belief in timeless universals, they could at least cleeve themselves -- cleeve themselves to a worker who had learned to live without them. thank you. [applause] so i will leave up the tattoos, um, and i'm happy to take some questions right now, and i've just been asked, though, that if you want to pose a question to, please, wait until the mic comes to you. so that you can ask the question in the mic.
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>> [inaudible] selected seem to be either german or people talking about german solidarity or, um, with german names, and i wondered how much of nietzsche's at least early popularity was a matter of ethnic solidarity and mid century emigrants who were longing to a connection to the old country. >> that's a wonderful question. a disproportionate number of letters are written by people with german names. and the letters -- and some of them are written in german, some of them are written in english where the letter writer regrets that he or she can't write in his or her mother tongue, that this is a source of, you know, great conner the is nation -- consternation. and so i think it is very conceivable that nietzsche really resonated with german readers, but as we look out to the wider published sources, it just doesn't tell us anything -- it doesn't seem representative. first of all, at the turn of the last century most educated
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americans, i mean, german was a standard second language for educated americans. so you didn't have to be ethnically german. and also the first translations were already available in 1896, so people could already start reading it in translation. so it seems to me the answer to your question is both yes and no. my sense is that for german, ethnic germans there was that sense of affiliation or bond. i mean, you see it in that longing to connect to nietzsche, to feel that nietzsche was a sibling soul, it also extends to people who were not ethnically german. i'd make one more point on that, and that is that nietzsche in the early years in america, as it were, was seen as a polish, as polish, ethnically polish and not german. nietzsche had described himself as the descendant of polish aristocrats, and partly this was a way for him to criticize germany.
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and so this is picked up and actually becomes a big summit of conversation -- subject of conversation and debate. and i think it's very interesting, so nietzsche is polish in american intellectual life until world war i, and it's at that point that nietzsche becomes seen as the monster or the inspiration of the german mind. so nietzsche becomes german, but he starts out polish, and i think this is often said to criticize nietzsche. if he were german, we'd get him better, right? i mean, our universities are modeled after the german university, we all are reading the great german thinkers, so this wouldn't have made him exotic enough. making him to -- making him polish made him exotic. >> thank you for a wonderful presentation, and i can't wait to read the book. as someone who's read some
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nietzsche and teach some of it here in the newberry, one of the main themes is the need for self-criticism, and it -- [inaudible] true believers and ideologies and the taking of disciples. one of the famous themes of -- [inaudible] disciples at the first -- [inaudible] because he hadn't sought to sell them first, and then he found -- >> yeah. >> aware of that need and that -- [inaudible] coming out of these american responses, or is it more along the lines of looking for a new savior? >> uh-huh, uh-huh. um, in -- well, this, i mean, that's a good question because i
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would say that is where we see a split between what's, you know, the interpretations in the letters and what we can see in widely-published sources. so, no be, the letter, i mean, the degree -- that kind of self-criticism that we see someone like a helene backmiller comes as close, the sense of inadequacy, but that's not what you're talking about. in the broader perception, many thinkers pick up on this, that to be a three -- nietzschean, you can't be. so james ton kerr who was one of the -- in fact, he's credited for bringing nietzsche's fame to america in the late 19th century, early 20th century, he said nietzsche was the only nietzschean died when nietzsche died. so you can't -- he recognized how how ridiculous this was. and, in fact, he was very critical that, you know, should
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nietzsche ever get a reception here in america, should he ever get famous here in america, it could only be if people misunderstand him. and she's not the first to pick up on this. this is a theme that gets picked up over and over and over again, the notion that he can't have a wide readership because if he does, then it's a trope. it's a, you know, it's a, um, it's hero worship and that nietzsche was deeply critical of it. so there are commentators who themselves are very critical of this, h.l. mencken's another example, i could go on and on, but often times the very people popularizing me chi, alan bloom's a perfect example of this. the only reason why, according to bloom many 1987, that nietzsche could be such a figure in our pop culture is because he's so badly misunderstood. and there is some truth to that. but anyway, a simple answer then to get back to my question is that sense of criticism, that sense of understanding that
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nietzsche didn't want nietzscheans. we see that. in fact, the person i think who expresses this most elegantly is josiah royce who is, it's sort of eyebrow-raising when people discover royce was a nietzsche reader because royce was a firm idealist in the heydey of philosophical pragmatism, so what does he want with an anti-idealist philosopher? but royce understood that nietzsche was, tore down the absolutes, tore down the foundations of our beliefs, but he didn't just leave it at that. he said it's our job to come up with the images of the possible after this. so royce understood if you turn nietzsche into that ubermunch, you're missed the boat. you're not fulfilling what nietzsche had called for or envisioned.
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>> [inaudible] >> wonderful. >> [inaudible] >> i think we're -- >> [inaudible] >> oh, hold on. national tv wallets to get this referenced. >> i've got a pop reference for you, another pop reference for you. >> okay. >> in the movie blazing saddles, there's a character named howard johnson in a town where all the people are named johnson. anyway, he starts to make a pompous speech, and he says nietzsche says, and then the character says, howard, blow it out your -- so that's kind of a throwaway line, assumes that nietzsche is so well known that -- >> sure, absolutely. >> say god is dead actually. >> sure. this is how we can know nietzsche is so conventional that he's, as i put it in an article i wrote, he's a conventional iconoclast. he's the quintessential iconoclast in american culture --
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>> like einstein in a way, right? people know him or his image, but they don't know much about what his ideas -- >> sure. but already, and so, obviously, there are different kinds of sources, right? a nietzsche throwaway line in a movie you can't subject to the same kind of critical analysis as entire books that have been written about him. and in the book i try to look at all of those uses, i try to look at all the registers in which nietzsche crops up in our life, but i think even the throwaway lines, as you put it, or the throwaway visuals, i mean, the best one i can think of now is little miss sunshine where the brother, the teenage brother is a nietzschean, and the movie has where he has -- i put it up on the screen, in fact, i could go back to it, where he's doing sit-ups or push-ups in his room, do you remember? pull-ups in his room, he's kind of flexing his own will to power amidst the backdrop of -- here, let me just go back -- ah.
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here, there. how do i make it bigger? i'm not sure i can. maybe i'll leave it like that because otherwise i'll press some button, and it'll explode. anyway, it's the one in the middle where there's a sheet, and it's just nietzsche's, you know, profile with a moustache. and i have to tell you, when i saw this -- now, i don't know the date of the movie, mid 2000s, maybe 2005, 2004, i saw this in a miami movie theater with a bunch of people younger than myself, let's put it that way. and as soon as this scene cropped up, they all burst out into laughter, you know? and that's exactly what the movie was going for, just a visual cue, you know, the incongruity of it, the absurdity of it. do i think the audience in the theater read nietzsche? no, but that cue already suggested the self-aggrandized teenager, the naughtiness, and, again, i think sometimes there's simply the point of entry for me as a historian to ask why, you know, how is it possible that
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like in blazing saddles or conan the barbarian it can open with a quote, and it has immediate resonance for us. and part of what i tried to figure out or examine in the book is because there's a long history of engagement with nietzsche that he is just part of our discourse. his terms are our terms, his image is now a standard icon graphic image in our visual culture. >> so i'm curious, in the archives do you get any clues into elizabeth's role in what she -- either in her voice back to these writers, what does she choose to say? i mean, i was sitting here thinking, huh, is there hate mail? or would she have thrown away hate mail? do you get another side of reaction, and do you get -- in your archival research, did you,
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could you figure out how she contributes to fashioning what's left for you? or is that -- >> well, thank god for really, really talented and hard working historians who have cobbled together the story of elizabeth forester, nietzsche's crucial role in nietzsche's career. when he has his mental breakdown in 1889, he spends the last 11 years of his life, um, really stark raving mad. i mean, it gets worse, but he -- and that's when she takes over. and it's already in those years of his mental twilight where she is crafting nietzsche as a prophet. and she's largely -- many nietzsche scholars will admit we have elizabeth forester nietzsche to thank, his sister, prior to some early folks who discovered him, his name had not yet broken, and she was instrumental. um, the unfortunate part of that story is that she was, um,
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anti-semitic, she was very nationalistic. and, in fact, she is the one who over the course of the early '30s helps to make the nietzsche archives, basically, an instrument or an institution devoted to the nazis. there's a famous picture where she welcomes hitler, and there's a picture next -- you know, of hitler next to nietzsche. so she plays some unfortunate roles in helping to refashion nietzsche as a proto-nazi. and then she's crucial to getting the translations out, so she's really crucial for just getting nietzsche out there. how did she respond to the letter writers? the problem in the archive is simply the spottiness of the record. they do not have a track, they were unable to have any kind of record of whether, what degree -- how many letters, the letters that are still existent
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reflect. we in some cases have outgoing letters that had been sent back, and only of them seem -- some of them seem very gracious and particular, so she formed relationships with some people. she had a relationship with h.l. mencken as she had a relationship, actually, with hunker early on. she had a relationship with a northwestern philosopher by the name of james taft hatfield who was an important philosopher in the early 20th century, and even sends nietzsche's collected volumes to him so he can have it at northwestern. but it's just very spotty, what she wrote back. what i can -- so neither -- what i don't have is how much these letters reflect a full, you know, how many letters came in, and we can't quite see the extent to which she wrote back, but, i mean, i can see kind of funny things where it's actually nietzsche writes a follow-up letter, oh, dear, i understand you cannot send an off the graph
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of nietzsche, you need to keep his body of autographs intact. and i'm like, what? i think she might have been very choosy, very selective and very savvy about who she was going to foster a relationship with and who not. >> is the american response to nietzsche any different than other nationalities? >> that's a wonderful question. and it's a question that, um, you know, i can answer with sort of varying degrees of precision. but here's what i think is the clear distinction, if you will. so one way to answer the question is, no. i mean, there's some things which we see traffic or in all of the receptions and, of
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course, nietzsche is a worldwide phenomenon, and there have been works on nietzsche in germany, in france, in sand scandinavia,n spain, in italy, in japan. um, and so what i can see is some of the things that we're seeing in the america are happening elsewhere. what i think is particular to the american reading is that i have very few three chi interpreters -- nietzsche interpreters who are reading nietzsche as a political thinker. and by that -- politics with a capital p. they're reading nietzsche -- if he's a critic of democracy, he is a cultural critic of democracy. that is to say he is a critic of the kinds of human types that democracy fosters. does that make sense? so they're reading nietzsche not as some great visionary of a new kind of politics which we, of course, see in russia, in italy
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with fascism and mussolini and, of course, with the nazis. we don't see that in america. that is to say there may be conservatives who read nietzsche or, you know, liberals who read nietzsche, and we see both of those, but they're reading him more as a cultural critic of the human type that democracy fosters. and i think that's very different. and i think that is very particular. it's, again, a nietzsche about american culture or a nietzsche about american individuality, a commentator on american souls. but not necessarily on our political system as such. the other thing i would just signal, and danny was kind enough to reference it in his intro, i think, unless i'm misremembering, um, was that as i mentioned also in the talk that nietzsche was an avid reader of emerson. um, in fact, emerson was the first be philosopher that nietzsche read.
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he read him already as a teenager. i discuss this in the prologue. and so one of the things i try to examine in the book or at least touch on, when nietzsche first, when his ideas first come to america the late 19th, early 20th century, occasionally thinkers would say, sounds kind of familiar, sounds a little bit like our emerson. but then they often usually do this as a way to make a distinction either that nietzsche is genius and emerson is kind of saccharin and victorian and too much a goody-goody, or that emerson is safe for democracy, he's wholesome, he's well, he doesn't have a breakdown, and nietzsche's a safe littic madman. so for those who here the timbre in nietzsche's voice are often trying to draw a distinction. but what's interesting is this connection carries on in the american readings, and in the last chapter i discuss in particular three authors, the
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philosopher richard doherty, the literary critic harold blum and also stanley ca vel, harvard philosopher, all who each in their own way use nietzsche as a way to get back to emerson, to reread and rediscover emerson for an american audience. and so i think what might be distinct about america or what we might be able to say is somehow colors this reception is that in nietzsche americans are hearing as blum put it their own inner orator. they're hearing emerson. so i think there's something particular in that way. there's a, one more hand, maybe one more question? she's going the bring you the mic.
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>> okay, thank you. i'm an indigenous person, a tribal person of this continent, and we see nietzsche as very different from, i think, most americans, i think, particularly in youth a lot of americans are -- admire nietzsche for his rebelliousness or his iconickism. but we've seen someone without a conscious. for instance, this book, beyond good and evil. so we see him as very much like americans, and we actually consider yourselves to be, it's not really a matter of culture or philosophy. i study philosophy at northwestern, but we see ourselves as physiologically different. we see ourself as like being bound to a conception of right from wrong, of what should and should not be and that cannot
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change. fending upon -- depending upon what we read or what kind of education we get. just to let you know, i go on about in this on the internet as chief hunting bear, one word, no punctuation. >> which uh-huh, uh-huh. thank you. um, well, that's a very -- a very big question, but let me try to give you a simple answer and, hopefully, not a simplistic one, but, i mean, i think i never would say nietzsche's without a conscience, but nietzsche certainly is calling into question all absolutes. nietzsche calls into question all foundations for human belief. whether it be god or science, whether it's truth. so nietzsche's entire philosophical project, i mean, he does a lot of things as a writer, but one clear, through
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line of his writing and certainly one that has the biggest impact here is that nietzsche challenged universal truths. >> so that's the problem. that's what we see as the problem. he doesn't, he doesn't think that anything is objective, that, um -- >> right. >> yeah. that is exactly what we see as the problem. >> yeah, yeah. >> he thinks that there are no facts, there are just hypotheses, there are just objective analogy. >> that's a very good reading of nietzsche, and it's one that americans share with you. and it's for this very reason that some think that he's remarkable and timely and needed to get rid of the artifacts of, you know, what it is, fill in the blank, right? decayed christianity, whether it's the artifacts of, um, sexism or racism, whether it's artifacts of a dysfunctional democracy. um, and others see this as

Book TV
CSPAN September 3, 2012 9:45am-11:00am EDT

Education. (2012) Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen ('American Nietzsche A History of an Icon and His Ideas.')

TOPIC FREQUENCY Nietzsche 201, Germany 6, Emerson 6, Jennifer 4, Jennifer Ratner-rosenhagen 4, Royce 3, Italy 3, H.l. 2, Chicago 2, German 2, Ralph Waldo Emerson 2, Mencken 2, Derek 2, Miami 2, Elizabeth Forester 2, Nietzsche Devotion 2, Northwestern 2, Elizabeth Nietzsche 2, Nazis 2, France 1
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